Today was D Day, or rather, the day that we would try to photograph Pediocactus knowltonii. This small plant, closely related to the very wide spread P. simpsonii, is considered to be the rarest Pedio. So, it is small and occurs in a very limited area – just one more complication: it grows on or near Southern Ute Indian Land and they do not like trespassers. On the plus side, pictures of the plant in flower all seem to be taken at the very end of April or the very start of May, so we should be here at flowering time. The other plus side is that its location information is in the public domain, on the website of the Colorado State University Herbarium through SEINet. The main question was: could we get to these coordinates without trespassing on Indian land?
We headed for the Ute Visitors Center signposted from the main road. Unfortunately it was closed – probably not open on Sundays.
With the coordinates in my SatNav, everything went well until we got near the spot. Here we had to make a turning onto a County Road. We had seen these on the way and they had been good gravel surface roads. SatNav wanted to send us onto a rough dirt track. We saw trespass notices, but surely a CR road is public highway and therefore OK, as long as we did not get out of the car? The mud track got worse and worse, clearly it had been used during a wetter season by large lorries servicing the oil drilling / pumping installations that were all around us. We decided to return to the main road and looked for alternative points of entry, without luck. Driving back towards Ignacio, we passed another CR road, one number higher than the one that should have taken us to our target plant.
We pulled over and I started up my laptop to double-check the coordinates and to study screen prints taken from Google Earth to look for hints as to where we had gone wrong.
Then the Ute Patrol passed by. And five minutes later passed by again – we saw him do a U-turn at the crossroads and he parked up behind us and an officer walked over to Cliff’s window at the steering wheel side.’Good afternoon Sirs, this is just a courtesy call, is everything OK?’ ‘Yes, fine, we are tourists from England and it seems that our SatNav is playing up.’ I replied. He could see my SatNav in my hand and the laptop plus maps on my knees. Re-assured that we were no troublemakers he was about to say goodbye, when it struck me that here was a man who could help. I explained that we were cactus freaks, travelling the Americas to take pictures of cacti. We had information that suggested that this plant occurred nearby but our SatNav could not find the CR number, which was one higher than the road that we were parked on. He smiled: ‘It’s the next turning, about 100 yds up the road.’ I asked if this was public road or if we needed permission from the Ute Nation and explained that we had called by the Ute Visitors Centre in Ignacio, but had found it closed. He confirmed that this was the right thing to do, and that they are closed on Sundays, but open on Monday when they could direct us to the place where we could obtain a permit in case the plants grew on their land. The CR road was public highway and we could drive on it, but the land on either side of the road was Southern Ute Indian Land and therefore off-limits.
Like on a number of occasions in the past, in Brazil and Cuba, it can be hard to do the right thing as the processes of obtaining permission to see plants is not widely published. We took the turning onto the right CR road and drove to within 10 yards of the coordinates. So, back on the main road and back to Ignacio and back to the Visitors Centre sign post. We’ll return tomorrow morning to obtain the necessary permission.
What to do with the rest of the day? We decided to take a look at the Mesa Verde National Park. This meant that we had to drive back to Durango and as we had found the Alpine Inn there comfortable, clean and with helpful staff, plus within our budget, decided to book in again for another night.
From there it was a 37 mile journey to the entrance of the Mesa Verde National Park entrance. We’ve not been disappointed at any of the National Parks with the scenery and photo opportunities that they present. This was no exception. A huge Mesa (Table Top type mountain) rose out of the desert in front of us. Behind us were the snow-covered San Juan Mountains.As the road climbed up the Mesa there were lots of pull outs where we could pull in to point our cameras at the land below. Visibility was not perfect, due to pollution and / or water vapour in the air. As we climbed higher, we were struck by the huge number of skeleton trees that covered the hillsides. At the top, at Park Point Overlook, we were at 2,613 m (8,572 ft) altitude. Here information boards explained that the hills had been victim of frequent fires caused by lightning. We saw Opuntia sp. at most of the overlooks where we stopped, but here, at the highest point we found several clumps of Coryphantha vivipara.
We carried on to the visitors center and from there to the Mesa Top Loop. Here there were several pull outs where we could walk to the edge of the rim and take pictures of the cliff dwellings on the rock face opposite us. Back at the hotel I looked at The Mesa Verde National Park website and found many of the pictures that we had taken. Why do we go on these trips? I think that in future I’ll stay at home and prepare presentations called ‘What I Found on the Internet’!
We fell in bed once back at the Alpine Inn, too tired to go out for a meal. Angie and I did pop out for a KFC. Up early tomorrow in the hope that it will be Knowltonii Day!